Writer’s Note: The Michigan Daily reached out to these sources over Instagram. We can not verify their identities, but they have identified as the admins of these Instagram accounts.
When your university’s president is put on blast for flirting through the proverbial family iPad, you don’t just brush it off.
It’s time to talk about the Schlissel memes. They take many forms: a Yik Yak post, a cheeky affirmation, a spray paint installment in the Diag. Instead of an outpouring of disappointment or grief, students are resorting to humor, which is easy enough to understand, as joking is the simplest way to cope with shame, a fact further amplified by the absurdity of the situation.
We reached out to a number of Schlissel memers on Instagram for a look into the motivations of the students indulging in the tomfoolery. If you have a pulse and you own a cell phone, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. @umich_incellectuals, best described as a U-M-specific reimagining of the vastly popular meme page @on_a_downward_spiral, kicked off the memes with a series of text posts. The earliest read “WE JUST LOST THE SCHLUSSY” over a portrait of a grinning Schlissel. Another said “who else up lonelying their ms.” My personal favorite from the account was an edited photo of Schlissel’s twitter with a blacked out profile picture and “Gone. Don’t text me or hmu” in the bio.
@umichcapsbabes, which popped up fairly recently, jumped on the train with a similar slew of memes. Their most popular, with over 200 likes, poked fun at the famed YouTube apology format, titled “my truth” with Schlissel in the thumbnail. Another meme read “me leaving Pizza House with 10 extra calzones up my ass” over a cheery-faced Schlissel.
@umichaffirmations, known by almost 12,000 followers for their cleverly specific affirmation-based U-M memes, made a carousel post of memes catered towards Schlissel. Some include, “I WILL NOT Send Raunchy Messages From My Work Email,” “WHAT IF WE MISSED OUR CONNECTION IN PARIS” and “I Will Not Be Lured In With The Promise Of A Knish.”
What got to me about @incellectuals and the other pages was how fast they responded to the news and how they decided to go about it — for some reason, their immediate reaction to reading those 118 emails was to make memes. When asked about the use of memes as a response, one of the @umich_incellectuals admins responded over Instagram DMs: “I think the memes were inevitable, the fuck them kids memes were already all over campus, we made a few too and like rightly so everyone already had a pretty low opinion.” The account’s second admin seemed to agree: “The way memes came almost immediately after his firing were kind of reflective of like the almost comedic relationship that’s been existing between schlissel and the student body for nearly 2 years.”
The admin from @umichcapsbabes had some thoughts about the meaning of the memes: “What makes them funny is that someone took time out of their day to make an edit for the bursley baits loop for absolutely no reason. Mark Schlissel is a grown man who’s probably at home very concerned about his public image and everyone else is just like yeahhh it makes sense that he’s a calzone man.”
@umichaffirmations’s admin ties up the issue with a nihilistic bow: “The fact that our university president is having an affair is an absolutely absurd and unfortunate situation. But so is living through a massive pandemic. So is the fact that we have single-digit weather. We can either live life accepting the bad things, or cope with them via humor.” While I personally don’t enjoy accepting these things with complacency, I struggle to find a better alternative. But maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way.
Yes, it’s funny — I will never get tired of “lonely m”— but what exactly is the joke here? That our No. 1 ranked University, with its illustrious Board of Regents and its $17 billion endowment, was spearheaded by someone incompetent enough to send hotel receipts to Individual 1 over his University email? That our president, our emblem, likes his calzones with extra mushrooms and his salads topped with cherries? The latter is not so incriminating, but his behavior towards Jon Vaughn is. Far worse than a string of silly emails is the impotent response to the Robert Anderson case and, most importantly, its survivors — Schlissel disgraced this institution long before Communications.pdf was in the picture. In fact, many might agree that his firing in and of itself is hypocritical.
There are jokes, but as the first @umich_incellectuals admin says, “At first I thought he’d been fired over the Anderson case, which would have been ideal because his conduct over that has been disgraceful and a huge dark cloud over the university.”
Maybe Schlissel will return to the comfort of his tenure as a professor. Maybe some rightfully vindictive MCDB majors will heckle him to embarrassment during office hours, or maybe he will retreat into his 401(k)-padded cave and never be heard from again. There’s also the possibility that Mary Sue Coleman won’t do a better job. At the very least, the idea that our frustrations might become a tangible force is reassuring.
Digital Culture Beat Editor Laine Brotherton can be reached at email@example.com.